Languages fundamentally serve as vehicles for people to communicate. Today, English language has been internationally recognized as a global language, which is highly correlated with the legacy of British colonization in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. India was colonized by the British from 1765 until its independence in 1947. (World English, 101) India, situated in South Asia, is geographically a huge territory with tremendously diverse ethnicities. Prior to the British colonization, India has multilingualism, in which each language is deeply rooted with its individual culture. In a rich multilingual territory, it is interesting how English has gained its power, and can remain powerful even after the postcolonial time. Starting from the British colonial time, the use of English language became prestige and important in India, especially in the government administration and education. In India, the position of English has changed from the symbol of slavery and colonial power to the symbol of a globalization, a workplace literacy, education and economic power.Order now
There are many diverse linguistic groups in India prior to the colonial time. According to the 1991 census, a total of 114 languages are identified by the abstraction of 1576 mother tongues into different classification (Annamalai, 610). The language Hindi has the largest number of mother tongues, and it is one of the India’s fifteen major indigenous languages such as Urdu, Bengali (Annamalai, 610). During and after the colonial time, how did English language gain and remain its status in an enormous variety of linguistic zone? The origin of English in India began with the British first arrival in 1600s and its establishment of trading (World English 101). After the British colonized India, the popularity of English also increased. Nevertheless, the importance of English in India effectively began with the introduction of an English education system written by Thomas Macaulay in 1835 (World English, 101). After the establishment of the universities of Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras in 1857, English language gained its status and popularity as it became the primary medium of university education (World English 101). Ever since then, English has been accepted as the language of government and many social elite groups.
After the independence, the question of which language would be the national language of India becomes a dilemma for many people. As mentioned before, Hindi is still the most widely used language in India. Therefore, many people suggested Hindi to be the national language. Although Hindi is spoken by forty percent of the one billion populations in India, the role of Hindi to become the India national language is still controversial. The diverse linguistic groups across India do not accept Hindi as the national language. “Other sub-nations feared the introduction of Hindi and had pride in their own languages. (Vanishree, 317)” In addition to their pride in their own languages, the non-Hindi speakers are also afraid that once Hindi become the national language, Hindi speakers will be more favored in the employment of government offices (Vaish 81). The non-Hindi speakers will subsequently have less opportunity in job opportunities. The dilemma continues until the involvement of English as the official language in India.
This conflict in 1960s was solved by “the ‘three language formula’, in which English was introduced as the chief alternative to the local state language, typically Hindi in the north and a regional language in the south. (World English, 101)” English is currently regarded as an associate official language together with Hindi. (Vanishree, 336) Despite the continuous effort of some nationalists to weaken the status of English language in India, English remains as powerful in India. There are approximately about twenty percent Indians (over 200 million in 2001) making regular use of English (World English 101). It is the nationwide agreement that regional languages will cover only in the private domain such as home while English still covers many public domains such as education, technology, government, national and international communication, and business (Vanishree, 317). Therefore, in India, most people become bilingualism in English, which not only allows India’s diverse linguistic groups to unify and work together under the same umbrella but also enable people to communicate easily through a common English language.
English become a language of prestige because of its role in education. School textbooks are written in Standard English, and English is used as the medium of instruction in many schools all over India. Some schools such as “convent schools”, which exist in most cities and towns, required students to speak only in English within the school premises while other schools have English as a compulsory subject in the curriculum (Peri Bhaskararao). Higher education system such as universities of technology and science, and other post-graduate level requires even more demanding usage of English. The majority of people correlate higher education with the assurance of job opportunities. Power of English fluency in economic urges many people especially students to pursue more in English so that they will be a part of the elite community. Therefore, many Indians appeal English language for the advancement of their lives.
English has a large impact on the new generation of India. This generation is convinced that learning English will ultimately assist them achieving their goals. A study has been done to understand how English create personality in many students of India. In 2005, Viniti Vaish, an Assistant Professor in Singapore’s National Institute of Education, conducted a study with a group of Indian high school students about their attitudes and goals for English learning. During the interviews, students repeatedly used the words “job”, “rich/money”, “development of individual and country”, and “unique look/impression” in relation to English (Vaish, 85). However, students used words like “foundation”, “mother tongue” and “identity” in relation to Hindi (Vaish, 85). Although these students have positive attitudes towards both English and Hindi, they all concurred that English is a global language, which will promote them to have better job opportunities, confidence and good impression. They believe fluency in English will advance them to be more marketable and powerful in globalizing workplace of modernizing India.
The globalization is the fruit of the current efficient communication system in India. The important communication systems such as radio and television network, News paper and media are currently using English in high-level. Furthermore, with the widespread use of Internet and wireless technology, English becomes the main language used in computing and software technologies. Furthermore, more and more international software and technology companies launch their business branches in India (Bhaskararao, 6) The work demand increases higher recruitment of technicians who are proficient in English. English again plays an essential role in the globalization process in India.
In conclusion, despite the initial intentions to diminish English language right after the India’s independence, English has been rooted to the very basic lives of the majority of Indians that it remains as a prestige, powerful language in India. The globalization and the essential roles of English in education, government and workplace further reinforce the power of English. For the new generation, English remains its status and reputation, and it becomes a necessity to achieve many of the future generation’s dreams.
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Vanishree V.M., “Provision for Linguistic Diversity and Linguistic Minorities in India.”
Language in India Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow Vol. 11:2 (2011): 304-375